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How can we judge whether doctrine is true or false?

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The word doctrine means “teaching.” Christian doctrine is the central body of teachings about God, the gospel, and the Christian faith. These doctrines are the truths passed down through the generations as “the faith that was once for all entrusted to God’s holy people” (Jude 1:3). Scripture provides the litmus test believers can use to judge doctrine as either true or false. If a belief or teaching agrees with the Word of God, it is sound doctrine. If it contradicts Scripture, it is a false doctrine.

The Bible tells us that God, by His character, is truth—He is entirely truthful and trustworthy (Deuteronomy 32:4; 2 Chronicles 15:3; John 14:6, 17; 1 John 5:20). God’s Word is truth (John 17:17; Psalm 18:30; 119:151). He cannot tell a lie (Hebrews 6:18; Numbers 23:19). The Bible also reveals that God is unchanging and unchangeable in His nature, His plan, and His being (Malachi 3:6; 1 Samuel 15:29; Hebrews 13:8; James 1:17). Because God does not change, believers can trust that truth will never change, and neither will doctrine based on truth. It can always be relied upon as the foundation of the principles and beliefs of our faith. We can defend our faith and build our lives on God’s rock-solid, unchanging truth.

The standard for discerning truth from error has always been the Word of God. When the people of Isaiah’s day were tempted to heed false teachers, the prophet pointed them to Scripture: “Look to God’s instructions and teachings! People who contradict his word are completely in the dark” (Isaiah 8:20, NLT). The objective measure of God’s Word is how we judge doctrine as either true or false.

Sadly, many churches construct their doctrinal positions on shaky ground. Erroneous teachings occur when the Bible is ignored, dismissed, or mishandled, in whole or in part. We must carefully consider the Scripture’s whole teaching on any given subject. Understanding the context includes studying the literal meaning of the words, placing them in their proper historical and cultural setting, and comparing the teaching with other related passages in the Bible.

Misapplied teachings are nothing new. Jesus rebuked the scribes and Pharisees for “teaching as doctrines the commandments of men” (Mark 7:7, ESV; cf. Isaiah 29:13). False doctrines were rampant in New Testament times, and the Scriptures tell us they will continue to be taught (Matthew 7:15; 2 Peter 2:1; 1 John 4:1). Paul warns, “For the time will come when people will not put up with sound doctrine. Instead, to suit their own desires, they will gather around them a great number of teachers to say what their itching ears want to hear” (2 Timothy 4:3).

Paul was astonished by those in Galatia who were “turning to a different gospel—which is really no gospel at all. Evidently some people are throwing you into confusion and are trying to pervert the gospel of Christ. But even if we or an angel from heaven should preach a gospel other than the one we preached to you, let them be under God’s curse! As we have already said, so now I say again: If anybody is preaching to you a gospel other than what you accepted, let them be under God’s curse!” (Galatians 1:6–9).

If our doctrine is based soundly on Scripture, we can know we are walking in the path God designed for us. However, if we do not study the Word of God for ourselves (2 Timothy 2:15), we risk being led easily into error. Paul taught that an elder of the church must hold firmly to God’s truth “so that he may be able to give instruction in sound doctrine and also to rebuke those who contradict it” (Titus 1:9, ESV; see also Titus 2:1). Those who do not hold to sound doctrine should be quickly spotted by their ungodly actions (Titus 1:16; 1 Timothy 1:10).

The Bible includes a solemn warning not to add to or remove anything from God’s Word (Revelation 22:18-19). Instead, Paul urges us to “hold on to the pattern of wholesome teaching you learned from me—a pattern shaped by the faith and love that you have in Christ Jesus” (2 Timothy 1:13, NLT).

Sound biblical doctrine refers to teachings that align with the revealed Word of God, the Bible. False doctrines are ideas that add to, take away from, contradict, or nullify the teachings given in God’s Word. For example, any teaching that denies Jesus Christ’s virgin birth is a false doctrine because it contradicts the clear teaching of Matthew 1:18–25. We can judge doctrines that refute the existence of hell as false based on Revelation 20:15, 2 Thessalonians 1:8, and Christ’s own words in Matthew 10:28 and 25:46. Teachings that claim there are many paths to God are directly opposed to the truth that Jesus is the only way of salvation (John 6:35; 10:7; 11:25; 14:6).

The better we know God’s Word, the more equipped we will be to judge doctrine and discern whether it is true or false, sound or in error (Matthew 22:29; Romans 15:4; 1 Peter 2:2; 2 Timothy 3:15). We should be discerning, as the Bereans were in Acts 17:11: “They . . . examined the Scriptures every day to see if what Paul said was true.” When we follow the lead of the first Christians, we will go far in avoiding the pitfalls of false doctrine. Acts 2:42 sets the standard: “They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer.” Such devotion will protect us and ensure we stay on the path Jesus set for us.

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This page last updated: June 7, 2023